“Hi, I’m Jen,” she smiled at me. “My parents were really original in the naming department,” she added as she stood by Ian’s side and he laughed at her joke. She stuck out her hand and I stared at it a minute before taking it, shaking it and saying, “Aust3n.”
“Oh, I know! Ian went on and on about you. He’s your biggest fan!” Jen said, sitting down in one of the two chairs.
“I’ll, uh, grab another chair,” Ian said, darting across the cafe toward an empty table in the corner.
“So, how do you know Ian?” I asked her.
“We’re starting the same music ed program in the fall, and so we met up when he moved to Portland.”
“Oh, cool,” I said, trying to hide all my efforts to want to know if Ian was sleeping with her. Otherwise, why would he bring her? We were supposed to be talking about serious things, and here he brought an obstacle course to our conversation.
Ian returned with a third chair and sat down, and that’s when I realized I was still standing, also. I sunk into the chair behind me and smiled back at Ian.
“So,” he said.
“So,” I muttered.
“Anyone want a drink?” Ian asked as he hopped up again.
“Nothing for me!” Jen looked up at Ian, all warm smiles and beautiful straight teeth. Ian looked at me and I said, “Drip? Black.” He nodded and left, leaving me to have awkward conversation with his new…girlfriend? best friend?
I studied Jen for a minute. She had a tall, lean body like a model or a dancer, and she didn’t wear any makeup. Her curls were knotted up and her clothes were wrinkled, but she was still unfairly gorgeous. I wondered if she was so comfortable with Ian that she didn’t need to impress him. I looked down at my own pink striped t-shirt and thought of my three coats of mascara and sighed at my efforts that failed before he even saw me.
I took a deep breath and remembered that this was the New Me, the one who was brave and honest and straightforward, who went to therapy, who asked questions. I looked straight at Jen and said, “So, how long have you two been dating?” I didn’t want to use that polite of a term, but I also didn’t want to unleash ALL of the New Me on poor skinny Jen.
Jen nervously shifted in her seat and said, “Oh, we’re not dating. We could never…I mean, you know he’s still hung up on you, right?”
I glanced back at Ian, who was tapping his fingers on the counter nervously as he waited for our drinks. “I don’t think so, Jen,” I said, looking back at her again.
“Trust me,” she breathed, and her eyes shifted. I wondered if she was thinking about him the way I was thinking about him.
I tilted my head and said, “Why would he bring a girl to meet me if he wanted to get back together with me?”
“Because,” she said, letting out a small breath. “Because. To make you jealous. I was going to leave in a minute.” She added, “It was my idea, not his.”
“OK,” I said, not knowing what else to say. Ian returned and gave me a too-big and very uncomfortable smile, and right then Jen stood up and said, “Well, I’m off!” She leaned over and gave Ian a hug, a really friendly hug, and then tapped the table and said, “Nice to meet you, Aust3n.”
“You too, Jen,” I lied. I saw Ian smile at her until she disappeared down the sidewalk, and as he was going to open his mouth, I said, “I kissed your brother.” Who was trying to make who jealous now?
He clamped his mouth shut. Then he said, “Oh.”
“We went on a few dates. I thought you should know. It was nothing,” I lied again. The feeling of Boss’s hand on my back returned to my body and I tensed involuntarily. I glanced up at Ian, hoping he hadn’t noticed the weirdness, but he was just staring at his coffee.
“So, you don’t want to get back together? You…came here to ask my permission to date my brother?” he asked more to the table than to me.
“No,” I said in a quiet tone. “I don’t think we should get back together.” I didn’t know I’d made this decision. “But I don’t want to date your brother either. OK?”
He looked up and said, “Really?”
I nodded. Then I added with as much sincerity as I could muster, “Ian, I really miss you. You were my best friend for a little time there. I’m a little heartbroken now.”
“Over our friendship,” he said, enunciating each word.
“Over our friendship,” I repeated.
“But you’re not going to date my brother.”
“Or anyone else, really,” I said.
“I think I need some time to figure things out. I don’t think I’d make a very good…anything.”
“So, you want to…what?”
“I want to be honest with you. I want to be friends. And then I want to see if we can be more. I mean, if you want.” I couldn’t look at him. All this honesty was killing me. I’d never been so forthright with a man, not even James.
“That sounds good,” he said slowly.
“Good,” I said, filling with relief. I slumped back in my chair a little, suddenly very tired. Then I added, “But…you can date other people if you want.” Why did I say that? WHY?
“No,” he shook his head. “Let’s just see.”
I couldn’t help the buzzing that went through my entire body at his words. I shouldn’t have been excited for such a small concession, but I was. It was immediately dampened when he said, “But you were going to tell me about why you don’t drive.”
“Right,” I said, realizing my happiness was likely going to disappear any second. “First, tell me what’s going on with you and Jen.”
He shifted in his seat before looking at her empty chair and said, “OK. But, Aust3n, if we’re really friends, you won’t care, will you?”
“I want to know,” I said. “I don’t know how I’ll feel.”
“It’s a long story,” Ian said. “Like, really long.” I just looked at his face, trying to figure out how a girl he just met added up to a long story, but I decided not to say anything else, and then he started telling me, and almost immediately I felt sick.